NBA Preview — Defensive Player of the Year

I don’t have a vote, but if I did, this is who I would pick

Imagine that this says “Defensive Player of the Year”

This week, I’m going to roll out my awards for MVP, All-NBA, and Defensove Player of the Year. I’ll start with DPOY, which I see as a contest between two players.

In the 2016–17 season, two defensive players stand out above everyone else. This is true in ESPN’s DRPM (Defensive Real Plus Minus), as well as in the eye test around the league. These players, as most know, are Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green. Not only are they both elite defenders on their own, but they also lead two of the top three defenses in the league (Golden State ranks second, Utah, third). As much as it feels odd to not include anyone from the league’s best defense in this voting, there’s a clear gap between these two players and the rest of the NBA.

Gobert has a slight lead in DRPM over Green at this late point in the season, but it’s worth noting that defensive statistics are especially hard to evaluate. Many of the things that the best players do don’t show up in box scores or even on advanced metrics, making an statistical evaluation unlikely. As such, giving this award based just on numbers feels foolish.

It’s also important to note that each player has extenuating circumstances attached to his candidacy. Green is probably capable of even better defense, but doesn’t have to play at the highest level every night because of the Warriors’ elite offense. Gobert has been on an injury-riddled team all season, and could theoretically have put up even better numbers with a healthy squad around him.

Ultimately, the question of voting comes down to what one values most. Gobert is the best defensive center in the league, and the best player at guarding one position. Green may not be quite as good at guarding this specific position, but he’s still elite, and can guard other positions better than Gobert can. Gobert anchors a defense by providing a stabilizing, solid presence near the basket; Green can play at the perimeter or the restricted area easily.

Ultimately (and in my very unscientific method), I think I value what Gobert has done a little more. I also think it’s important that he receive some recognition for an elite season, especially on a team that many may forget about once June arrives. The Jazz are really good, and they wouldn’t be anywhere near that level without Gobert’s defensive contributions. I think Green will end up winning the actual award, which is fine. This race is close enough that I don’t think there’s a clear-cut winner. My vote, though (if I had one), would go to Utah’s star.

Winner: Rudy Gobert

Predictions

I missed last night’s game, so I’m 0–1 for the week so far. Tonight, ESPN has two good games.

Milwaukee at Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City

This is a fun one, with two playoff teams both fighting for position. Each team is also pretty similar in that they both rely on one key player for nearly everything, setting the table for a potentially fantastic duel. The Bucks, as fun as they are, have been a little inconsistent though, while the Thunder are good at home. I like OKC here.

Minnesota at Golden State: Golden State

The Wolves have been eliminated from playoff contention, and don’t have a whole lot to play for here. I don’t expect them to roll over, but that gives a clear edge to a team that was already heavily favored. Even though the Warriors don’t have a ton to play for either, this should be a pretty easy win.

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